There might not have been a ruby in sight, but as 40th anniversaries go, this one was pretty spectacular. The penultimate date of Anthrax’s UK tour saw a sold-out venue, a rabid audience and three bands all intent on bringing the noise.
Anthrax, Municipal Waste, Sworn Enemy – O2 Academy, Bristol. 6 October 2022.
Words: Paul Hutchings
Photography: Georgia Brittain
An hour before doors, the queue is already winding its way from the entrance of the venue. The Hatchet Inn, perfectly located directly across the road, is full of black t-shirt-clad Metal fans grabbing a pre-gig pint. It’s a heady mix, from the old school faithful who’ve been with the band since the start to the younger fan eager to experience their first encounter with one of the ‘big four’, as well as a smattering of the more casual music lovers who may not be so deeply involved with the New Yorkers.
Anthrax are in town, and the anticipation is palpable. The doors open on time, and the rush to secure decent vantage points is on in a venue which will inevitably become challenging later in the evening. The O2 isn’t a great place to watch music, but tonight nobody seems to care too much.
The strains of AC/DC’s classic For Those About To Rock burst out of the speakers, the lights lift, and New York crossover veterans Sworn Enemy kick into their 30 minutes with their eponymous anthem. The front rows take a minute to compute, then decide that this is worth a mosh, and the pits open.
Sworn Enemy are imposing. Vocalist Sal Lococo towers above the barrier, sleeveless, baseball cap and cameo shorts, all snarls and vitriol. Alongside him, bassist Mike Pucciarelli jumps, twists, and contorts whilst guitarists Jeff Cummings and Mark Garzilli pump out the riffs.
The band take no prisoners. It’s visceral, anthemic, powerful and impressive. Sworn Enemy are no new kids on the block, 25 years under their belts, bringing assured confidence to their delivery. They draw deep, four of their ten songs coming from 2006’s sophomore release The Beginnings Of The End.
Prepare for Payback is savage, a glorious slab of aggression with bruising breakdowns. Lococo is gracious, flagging up the band’s social media sites and thanking the fans for coming out early. He ends the set on the barrier, surveying the pit action that rages in front of him. Here Today sees a burst of Reign In Blood included before the blistering We Hate featuring a snippet of Pantera’s Domination closes the set.
Job done. Crowd fully warmed up. Crossover may not be everyone’s first choice, but after this, Sworn Enemy have an army of new fans.
I’ve seen Municipal Waste several times, including the time they were breaking all kinds of crowd-surfing records at Bloodstock in 2017. Tonight, they set out with similar intent, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. You know what you get with the Waste. They come to party, to thrash, and to “Fuck You Up.”
With the venue now at capacity, moving is challenging enough, but that doesn’t stop Municipal Waste from demanding circle pits, surfing, and general raging. Demoraliser starts the party and is followed by 14 tracks of orchestrated chaos.
New songs from the excellent Electrified Brain slot into the set with ease, although it’s the anthems from Slime and Punishment and The Art Of Partying that really set the pit into a frenzy. Wave Of Death sees security earn their corn as the swell of crowd surfers pour forward, breaking over the front row as if pulled towards the stage by an invisible tractor beam.
Headbanger Face Rip does just that, prompting at least one possessed Metal head nearby to defy the laws of gravity, such was his vigour.
Singer Tony Foresta is relentless, constantly moving, head banging and encouraging the seething mass in front of him to go harder, faster, and longer. Ryan Waste’s huge presence takes up one side of the stage, with Nick Poulis and Philip Hall squeezed in on the other side of drummer Dave Witte, who hammers seven shades out of his kit.
The band are crammed at the front due to Anthrax’s stage set, and this slightly restricts their usual movement. It doesn’t impact their performance one iota. By the time The Art Of Partying and Born To Party bring things to a close, there is moisture running down the walls, broken bodies and security breathing a sigh of relief.
Municipal Waste have thrown down the gauntlet to the headliners.
A white curtain is lowered across the front of the stage. Film of the great and the good eulogising about Anthrax and taken from their 2021 live stream show prompt cheers from the crowd, Dee Snider, Henry Rollins, Chuck D, Dave Mustaine, and Kerry King eliciting particularly loud approval.
The lights drop, the silhouette of Frank Bello and Scott Ian project onto the curtain, and the riff to Among The Living rips across the hall.
The curtain falls, and once again, the venue is in a frenzy. It’s a ferocious start. Few bands can command such firepower as Among The Living, Caught In A Mosh and Madhouse for an opening trio of songs. Anthrax is on fire. Charlie Benante sat atop his gleaming white Tama kit hammers out the beat, Bello can’t stand still for a second, and Ian commands his side of the stage.
Lead guitarist Jonathan Donais stands slightly removed, content to peel out solo after solo, the former Shadows Fall man now into a decade of service.
And then there’s Joey. Joey Belladonna, looking far younger than his 61 years, who still gurns like he was 21, and whose voice is better than I’ve ever heard it. He is a live wire, restlessly moving from left to right, up on the platform and back again. He’s genuinely enjoying himself, and the crowd respond in kind. There are few more likeable singers in Metal, and his slightly goofy style belies a voice that few can match.
“There’s only one thing I need to know,” roars Scott Ian, three songs into his band’s set. “Do you love Thrash Metal?” Cue Metal Thrashing Mad from debut album Fistful Of Metal. More surfers launch their way to the barrier, having already caused the ‘togs in the pit to scurry for cover during the first three songs.
It’s a frantic opening salvo which leaves you breathless. Keep It In The Family from Persistence Of Time follows, a slightly less frenetic pace allowing a slight breather, before the arrival of Antisocial, the one song that should be dropped from the setlist. It’s overstayed its welcome like a drunk at a house party, but it seems that it is here to stay.
Scott Ian is taking more of a vocal role than I’ve seen him before. He delivers a couple of emotional speeches, and thanks the fans for their devotion to Metal. He references Anthrax’s first visit to the UK, supporting Metallica on the ill-fated Puppets tour.
There’s a pang of pride inside, tinged with sadness when remembering the two shows I saw in 1986 in Cardiff and at Hammersmith Odeon. Rest in Peace, Cliff.
I Am The Law brings the temperature back to boiling point. Horns up for Dio demands Joey as we get In The End from Worship Metal before time is turned back once more and a battering Medusa rips the O2 a new one.
At long last we get something from the John Bush era. The reaction to Only suggests that Anthrax could have featured it long ago. It’s one of the best receptions of the evening and a demonstration of the appreciation that fans have for the job the Armored Saint frontman did in his decade fronting the band.
An entertaining, if half-baked, Bring The Noise leads to main set finisher Indians. It’s a fantastic Thrash Metal song, the huge stomping riff sees Ian charging around the stage in an inimitable style, and we don’t even have the cabaret of stopping the song for the War Dance as the crowd power through.
A semi-departure from the stage sees Benante remain in situ, Bello returns and pumps out the bass line to Got The Time, another cover and another one that is now part of the furniture. Anthrax have made the Joe Jackson song their own mind, and judging by the reaction around me, they’d be lynched if they ever removed it.
It’s been a breathless evening, fast and furious from the off, and a blistering Efilnikufesin (NFL) rounds off things in magnificent style.
Forty years in the industry, Anthrax have been through huge highs and crushing lows but remain a seminal band of the Thrash genre.
With Slayer in retirement and Metallica cardigan-clad luvvies, it’s down to Megadeth and Anthrax to keep the Big Four’s flag flying.
And with due respect to Mr Mustaine, it’s the New York quintet who still excite most in the live setting. The crown of Thrash Metal sits with Anthrax. For All Kings!!